Senator Henry Jackson announces his candidacy for president on November 19, 1971.

  • By Kit Oldham
  • Posted 12/09/2010
  • Essay 9661
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On November 19, 1971, Washington Senator Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson (1912-1983) announces his campaign for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. Speaking in the Old Senate Office Building with his family and Senate colleagues at his side, Jackson hearkens back to his New Deal roots but also touts his stand for "law and order," positioning his candidacy to the right of presumed front-runner Edmund S. Muskie (1914-1996) and eventual nominee George McGovern (1922-2012). Jackson's first try for the presidential nomination will fall far short, as he wins only the caucuses in his home state. Four years later Jackson will enter the 1976 presidential primaries as a front-runner but lose the nomination to Jimmy Carter (b. 1924).

Senator Jackson

Henry M. Jackson was perhaps the most successful politician in the history of Washington state, where he never lost an election in 13 tries. However, neither his electoral achievements at the state level nor his influential insider role in the Senate translated into success as presidential candidate. An excellent one-on-one campaigner and a master of backroom politics, Jackson was far less adept at speaking before large crowds. Despite efforts by aides and consultants to bolster his oratorical style and upgrade his "old fashioned and fuddy duddy" wardrobe (Kaufman, 227) -- Jackson's insistence on buying his suits off the rack from a discount store owner in his home town of Everett typified both his loyalty and his frugality -- the candidate did not excel in the type of campaign appearances that made the television news and were critical to a nationwide candidacy.

In addition, by 1971 some of Jackson's political positions were out of sync with large segments of the Democratic party -- especially the many enthusiastic young volunteers who would propel South Dakota Senator George McGovern to the nomination. Jackson entered Congress in 1941 as a New Deal liberal, and throughout his long career he remained staunchly liberal on many domestic issues. He saw social welfare programs as the best way to improve life for the average American, strongly supported organized labor, and authored landmark environmental legislation. But Jackson was also a constant advocate for increased defense spending and a hardliner against the Soviet Union. He remained a defiant "hawk," in the political language of the day, and vocal supporter of the Vietnam War long after many Democrats, including other contenders for the 1972 nomination, turned against the war.

"Law and Order"

Jackson's stance drew bitter criticism from many left-wing Democrats, for whom the war was the defining issue. Perhaps partly in reaction to their vituperation, Jackson began emphasizing a few hot-button social issues on which he took a conservative position. Despite a deep commitment to civil rights -- he strongly backed every major civil rights bill in Congress -- Jackson played up his opposition to using mandatory busing to desegregate schools and during the 1972 campaign even, to the dismay of many liberal supporters, introduced (unsuccessfully) a constitutional amendment to ban the practice. Jackson also touted his support for "law and order," arguing that Democrats should not cede that issue to President Richard Nixon (1913-1994) and the Republicans.

To some, the combination of economic liberalism, law and order, and hawkish foreign policy made Jackson the ideal Democratic candidate. Ben Wattenberg (b. 1933), a young political strategist who would go on to become a leading neo-conservative pundit, had recently co-authored a book titled The Real Majority and saw Jackson as the embodiment of the positions that the book called on Democrats to take to remain successful. Wattenberg signed on to the Jackson campaign and encouraged Jackson to concentrate on the social issues that distinguished him from most other likely Democratic contenders.

Jackson's campaign started long before his formal announcement. By the summer of 1971 he had decided to run and assembled a campaign staff, including Wattenberg, headed by Jackson's administrative assistant, Sterling Munro (one of the campaign's weaknesses was Munro's inability to devote himself to it fulltime, since he retained responsibility for running Jackson's Senate office). There was a campaign office in the national capital and another in the historic Northern Life Tower (later Seattle Tower) back home, where volunteers laid the groundwork what would be Jackson's only primary victory -- a sweep of the Washington state caucuses.

"Party of the Underdog"

On November 19, 1971, at a news conference at the Old Senate Office Building in Washington, D.C., Jackson made it official. Flanked by a number of fellow lawmakers, including Washington's senior senator, Warren G. Magnuson (1905-1989), and with his family -- Helen Hardin Jackson (1933-2018) and their children Anna Marie (b. 1963) and Peter (b. 1966) -- at his side, the senator declared that he was running for president. In keeping with his campaign themes, Jackson called for law and order and a strong defense policy while championing "the little guy ... the plain people" (Kaufman, 230) and proclaiming himself a "middle-of-the-roader" (Delaney).

In his announcement speech, Jackson repeatedly invoked former Democratic President Harry Truman (1884-1972), declaring that he would roll up his sleeves "a la Harry Truman and tell it like it is" (Delaney). Acknowledging that he was an underdog in the race, Jackson called the Democratic party "the party of the underdog" and reminded listeners that Truman "showed what an underdog could do" (Kaufman, 230). Unfortunately for Jackson, his underdog campaign did not come close to duplicating Truman's upset presidential victory in 1948.

Jackson and his advisers chose not to compete in New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation primary, assuming that Senator Edmund Muskie of neighboring Maine would win overwhelmingly and preferring to concentrate on Florida, where they expected Jackson's support for defense spending and his opposition to mandatory busing to play well. The strategy did not work. Muskie barely won New Hampshire and McGovern's strong second-place showing made him a leading contender. And in Florida, Jackson was out-flanked on the right by segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace (1919-1998), who appealed more strongly to the anti-busing voters Jackson was counting on. The Washington senator finished a distant third in Florida, behind Wallace and former Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey (1915-1978), who would go on to be McGovern's nearest rival for the nomination.

Not Close

That third-place result was as close as Jackson came to a primary win, other than eventually claiming all of Washington's 52 convention delegates in his home-state party caucuses. A fifth-place finish in the Wisconsin primary ended any chance of a Jackson nomination, but he continued his campaign through the Democratic convention, in part because he detested the idea of McGovern as the Democratic nominee, predicting -- correctly -- that McGovern would lose to Nixon in a landslide. Jackson endorsed McGovern after the latter secured the nomination, but made little effort to campaign for him. Instead Jackson worked with other lawmakers and party officials to help Democratic congressional candidates survive the coming electoral disaster, with considerable success. In contrast to the Reagan landslide eight years later, in 1972 Democrats actually gained Senate seats and lost only a few in the House, despite Nixon's huge margin of victory.

In part due to the electorate's repudiation of McGovern, Jackson was seen as a front-runner for the 1976 Democratic nomination when he announced his second presidential campaign in February 1975. Once again, however, Jackson was undone by a southern governor. Jimmy Carter, the little-known former Georgia governor -- who had made the speech seconding Jackson's nomination at the 1972 convention -- ran a masterful primary campaign, winning the nomination and the presidency and ending Jackson's presidential hopes.


Paul Delaney, "Jackson in Race; He Asserts Nixon Fails to Win Trust," The New York Times, November 20, 1971, p. 1; William W. Prochnau, "It's Official: Jackson in Race," The Seattle Times, November 19, 1971, p. A-1; Prochnau, "Jackson is Third Democratic Candidate," Ibid., p. D-4; Richard W. Larsen, "Victory Celebration in 1970 Presaged Announcement Today," Ibid., p. D-4; Robert G. Kaufman, Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2000), 223-241, 301-22; Peter J. Ognibene, Scoop: The Life and Politics of Henry M. Jackson (New York: Stein and Day, 1975), 13-26; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Jackson, Henry M. 'Scoop' (1912-1983)" (by Kit Oldham) (accessed February 26, 2018).
Note: This essay was updated on October 30, 2012, and on February 26, 2018.

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